Many Americans, maybe even most, have come to believe that our form of democracy can be summarized in just two words: “majority rules.” If you’ve got the votes, you win.
However, it’s never been that simple. The original framers of the Constitution were concerned about the likelihood that majorities would overwhelm the inalienable rights of sizable minorities or even stubborn individuals who disagreed. And so, for instance, they designed a system that makes it possible for a presidential candidate to win more votes nationwide than any other but still lose to the runner-up because of the influence of small states in the Electoral College.
They also wrote a Bill of Rights that was amended to the Constitution to specifically protect the rights of political minorities against the onslaught of any majority, no matter how well meaning.
Because, despite the righteousness of the cause or the decency of the people, majorities can sometimes infringe upon what others believe to be their constitutionally guaranteed rights. Then it’s up to the courts to referee the competing claims of whose liberty is better protected by the law of the land.
Can the federal government force you to incriminate yourself or others in the name of national security? Can a state law force you to register your handgun? Can a public school randomly drug test students it does not suspect of using drugs? The answers the courts give are, in turn, dependent on the times, the political context, and yes, even the will of a majority — ultimately at least five out of the nine presidentially-appointed Justices of the Supreme Court.
Larry v. Lockney is about one particular clash in one particular place over the nation’s War on Drugs. But it’s also just another chapter in the age-old debate over majority rule versus minority rights. It’s a story as American as apple pie. The additional clash between issues of public safety versus individual freedom makes the film that much more timely in a post 9/11 world.
In introducing the film to live audiences, we often state that while we do not provide any answers, we do aim to take viewers to a higher level of confusion on the issue of school drug testing. We hope the film can help us all get to a higher plane of understanding on how to protect both society at large and the smallest minority of one.
— Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck
(Courtesy of P.O.V.)
Mark Birnbaum, Producer
Mark Birnbaum’s documentary credits include films for The Discovery Channel and public television, and a prestigious Peabody Award. His most recent productions include ¡Salsa Caliente!; Polar Opposites; The Faithful Revolution: Vatican II, a five-hour series for PBS; Of Two Minds; Las Mujeres del Valle; and The Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. He is currently developing three projects, Before the Fall: Riding the Wave of Cuban Art, an untitled biopic on blues great Howlin’ Wolf, and seven short films for a new, state-of-the-art museum of Dallas history. Birnbaum, a Baltimore native, lives in Dallas.
Jim Schermbeck, Producer
Jim Schermbeck has been a community organizer in Texas since 1977, working with Public Citizen and the National Toxics Campaign. From 1996 to 1999, he was executive director of Downwinders at Risk, and has written and produced several short films, including Danger Downwind, on the environmental and health risks of burning hazardous waste in cement plants. He is a Fort Worth native and currently lives in Slaton, Texas.